Nyack College - Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
Fashion Institute of Technology - Jewelry Design
Colleen Smith grew up with the adage, “If you don’t see a job you like, make your own.” So after leaving professional ballet and dabbling in the famed design houses of New York City, she did just that, parlaying her love for jewelry and accessories into BEVIN. A hand fabricated jewelry line, BEVIN maintains the importance of purposeful production over mass production.
This eye for careful, one-of-a-kind creativity takes inspiration from the modern woman, as well as the world at large. For Colleen, it’s about fashioning inventive pieces that embody the confident, adventurous temperament she sees in so many of the women she admires.
In addition to nurturing her creative spirit through her jewelry, Colleen also takes pride in her work as a business owner. It’s a balance Colleen attributes to a love for versatility. As Colleen herself says, “The important thing is not being afraid to try something new.”
You never start with all the answers; you figure them out along the way.
How did you discover your current job? What was the path you took from graduation to where you are today?
I’ve always found myself drawn to artistic professions and I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced several. After spending more than 10 years in professional ballet, I chose to expand my creative reach by entering the sphere of fashion and design. I left dancing to study business, and then went on to work for several design houses in New York, exposing me to the inspiring world of jewelry and accessories. It was at this point that I understood this was what I wanted to do.
I started out making jewelry in my tiny Manhattan apartment and later studied jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It wasn't until I moved to Portland, Ore., that I was able to fully immerse myself in the craft. I went to work for a large retail jewelry shop, apprenticing for two years before taking on the role of professional jeweler. After spending several years working with other people's designs and honing my skills, I was ready to take the plunge and pursue my dream of creating my own jewelry line.
What does your typical job schedule and day look like?
Since I split my time between being a business owner and a jeweler, it always changes. If I wake up feeling particularly inspired, I may just take the whole day and work on developing new designs. If it's a studio day, I start out by reviewing the orders I need to fill, gathering all the metal, stones and other raw materials required. I pick out some great music, sit down at my bench and go to work sawing, soldering, bending and hammering the metal into shape and setting any stones. The final steps are polishing and cleaning, followed by a careful examination to make sure each piece is just right.
Then there are the "business" days, where I devote the majority of my time to working on social media content, marketing, accounting and building collaborative relationships with retailers and other businesses. I take time out to inspire myself and keep up on emerging trends through browsing my favorite blogs and fashion magazines.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being able to make whatever I dream up or seeing one of my pieces featured in a magazine or fashion blog!
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Two things: how to bring a design to life and how I'll meet deadlines for large orders.
Where do you find inspirations for your designs?
Many designs are simply the result of wanting something new to wear! I’m also inspired by the modern woman who's confident and adventurous; what would she wear? I tend to see shapes emerge in life and I find myself drawn to architecture: bridges, buildings, windows. These all have potential to be the beautiful lines and shapes behind my designs.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Work/life balance is a challenge at times for sure! It's still something I'm trying to figure out.
I have a strong appreciation for the things that are meaningful to me and add balance to my life outside of my job. What helps me keep that balance is sticking to a schedule and maintaining consistency. Exercise is a huge part of what keeps me mentally and physically well; I take the same ballet and yoga classes every week and I just recently fell in love with riding my bike. There's an ebb and flow to my workload and sometimes it increases for a short time and I make adjustments. A huge factor in the balance I create for myself is understanding sometimes I just have to cut something out of my schedule and that's okay. Not running myself ragged pays off over the long term.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
You never start with all the answers; you figure them out along the way. Everything becomes clearer with time and experience. The important thing is not being afraid to try something new.
Who are your role models?
I admire the numerous small designers that are following their dreams and making a name for themselves. It's inspiring to see hard work followed by results.
Iconic role models? There's Diane von Furstenberg; she created an enduring design house with longevity and femininity. I also admire Frank Gehry for his imaginative architecture and passion.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Growing up, my mom always told me, "If you don't see a job you like, make your own." At the time, I just thought she was crazy, not realizing that this was the path I was headed down.
I also believe in surrounding myself with people that challenge, support and inspire me; this helps me persevere even when I feel defeated.
Finally, know when to take advice and when to leave it.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in owning their own business, and specifically a jewelry business?
You have to love versatility. Owning my own business, coming up with all the designs and making the jewelry means I wear many hats. Boredom is never an issue.
You should also love working with your hands. Mastering technique is a process and it takes desire, tenacity and a good dose of failure before you get it right. You must be willing to grow and continue learning.
If you want to concentrate on just one part of the business, like the design and production aspect, consider partnering with someone who is skilled in building the business side of things.
What advice do you have for women who want your job?
Dream larger than what you think you're capable of, then start working toward it. And be patient with yourself!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I want to see my line featured at Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel and Barneys. I also want to expand my studio and hire employees who are as passionate about jewelry as I am!